Vlogging the Other: Representation & Authenticity in Travel Videos

Video & Article by Emma Anderson 


Video Transcript

[Start of Video]
Logan Paul: Gotta be careful to not like disrespect the culture, because Logang, Japan is all about the respect. So I gotta get my choch levels and bring them down.
[00:09 Music]
[00:13] LP: How far can we take this?
[00:14 Music continues, Paul and friends yell in background]
[00:24] LP: What happened?
Japanese Officer: Outside.
LP: What did he do?
Officer: No!
Tour guide: [Speaking Japanese.] Sorry, the filming, the filming.
LP: Oh, it's the filming. It’s the vlog. You know how it is in Japan, they’re all about the
respect. I’m now realising why they tried to arrest me last year!

[00:38] Narrator: Travel Vlogs work to essentialize and consume the Other. Through processes of ionization and repressive authenticity the medium of travel vlogs commodifies culture for consumption by the outsider. This could be seen as the continuation of Western colonial ideologies which seek to define the “self” in opposition to the “Other”.

[01:04] Travel vlogs are a form of representation which becomes more about the self than the subject. Where the “authenticity” of a place, and interaction with difference, are invoked as a means of self-identification versus producing an accurate portrayal of a particular people and place.

[01:23] The travel vlog reveals power-dynamics often rooted in conceptions of whiteness and Western moral superiority complexes, which are the residue of Western imperial-colonialism. It is this, in addition to the processes of repressive authenticity, that lead to the essentialized and commodified representation found in Travel Vlogs.

[01:53] In her essay “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” (1992), bell hooks writes: “The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.”

[02:19] This sort of cultural consumption and desire to experience exotic difference, is tied up with the medium of travel vlogs.

[02:29] In the 2017 article “Vlogging White Privilege Abroad: Eat Your Kimchi's Eating and Spitting Out of the Korean Other on YouTube”, researchers David Oh and Chuyun Oh analyzed 324 of the videos uploaded by popular YouTube duo “Eat Your Kimchi”, or as they are known today “Simon and Martina”; an expatriate Canadian couple living in South Korea. From this analysis emerged repetitive instances of the couple drawing on and reinforcing Orientalist discourse. Specifically the use of racial and cultural stereotypes – the hypersexual Korean woman, regressive social morals such as oppressive sexism, and the overall weird or bizarre nature of Korea and Koreans (Oh and Oh, 2017). All while, fetishizing and consuming this “different” culture for personal gratification. 

[03:23] Oh and Oh write that “The ideological work of White supremacy is masked as they situate their criticisms of Korea/ns through a guise of (paternalistic) progressiveness.” (703). They hide racist ideology under the pretense of helping and modernizing people they view as inherently different from themselves.

[03:44] The article situates this sort of behaviour within neo-colonial discourse, which is embedded with a power dynamic with its roots in colonial travel writing and ideology. Mainly the idea that encounters with exotic difference are meant to edify the White adventurer (Oh and Oh, 2017).

[04:00] For the white Westerner, travelling was a means of improving oneself and gaining access to what was viewed as new and exotic knowledge. Conceptions of the “self”, and historically the West, have been carved in relief to the constructions of the “Other”. This construction is often bound to notions of the primitive, the bizarre, and the backward contrasted against the Western and often white self (Oh and Oh, 2017).

[04:29] The clip shown at the beginning of this video is taken from a deleted vlog series posted by YouTuber Logan Paul, from his trip to Japan in late 2017. The YouTuber came under fire for one episode in the vlog series in particular, in which Paul and his friends filmed and uploaded images of the body of a suicide victim they found in Aokigahara Forest – colloquielly known in the West as Japan’s suicide forest.

[04:57] This is an extreme example, where Japanese culture becomes commodified and exploited to the point of dehumanization, yet this video illuminates how encounter and experience of the exotic and bizarre Other is seen as a novelty to the Westerner.

[05:17] This pattern of simultaneously romanticizing yet essentializing other cultures, has a lot to do with the conceptions and construction of the “authentic”. The West’s depictions of the racialized Other in film and photography throughout history have been interrogated in regard to what is to be considered authentic representation.

[05:40] Perhaps epitomizing this debate, the 1922 film Nanook of the North was long hailed as a cinematic masterpiece which accurately captured the everyday life of the Inuit people of Quebec (Rony, 1996). Despite the director actively constructing a narrative which represented the Inuit people as he thought they should be rather than how they are.

[06:03] Film and media scholar Fatimah Tobing Rony described the movie as “an artifact of popular culture”, as the director exploited and reinforced pre-existing stereotypes of the Inuit as primitive, versus presenting the audience with any sort of authentic lived experience (Rony, 1996).

[06:23] This is an instance of repressive authenticity: a performative authenticity in which representations of a people or culture are created to align with non-native expectations and ideologies.

[06:37] This debate over authentic representation is one worth considering in regard to new media. This use of pre-existing narratives is a conspicuous element of Travel Vlogs. The titles chosen, imagery used, and stories told, more often than not, draw on existing narratives and conceptions of a place which are pulled from the Western popular imagination. The “authentic” becomes tied up with the viewer’s own expectations versus the lived realities of the people and place.

[07:12] Andrew Duffy’s 2019 study of written travel blogs, presents “authenticity” as a tool of power and representation, one which positions the self in the centre of the gaze on others. The travel vlogger disrupts the potential for authentic representation through focusing on the self rather than the local.

[07:33] Duffy suggests that travel blogging relies on three forms of authenticity: experience, existence and expectations.

[07:44] Being able to say “I did this” creates authenticity for the traveller, whether or not it is considered authentic by local standards, and in doing so more weight is given to the traveller’s experience than the experience of the local people (Duffy 2019, 574).

[08:00] How the traveller represents the local is important. Travellers want to uncover a sense of self through interaction with the Other, but experience too similar to the “normal” can be deemed invaluable thus goes unrecorded, even if it is closer to the authentic lived experience. The “authentic” becomes tied up with the traveller’s own values and the power to choose what to include and what not to include (Duffy 2019, 576-577).

[08:28] As mentioned earlier, the viewer’s or traveller’s expectations can determine what should be considered “authentic”. Western media and discourse affect the individual’s conceptualizations of a place before they even get there (Duffy 2019, 578).

[08:42] These preconceived expectations and understandings contribute to the process within travel media where repeated narratives and imagery are used to define a people and place. This can be seen as a form of erasure, as what is authentic becomes determined by the outsider.

[09:04] The desire for interaction with the romanticized exotic other becomes reproduced through essentialized understandings, the gaze of the travel vlog becomes fixated on the self – whether the individual or societal. Repressive authenticity becomes a defining tool, and even the act of travel becomes an extension of colonial ideologies about the “self” and the “other”.

[09:29] Yet, the medium of travel vlogs has the potential to be a tool of authentic representation. By shifting the gaze from the self to the subject, travel vlogs have the ability to uproot popular narratives and stereotypes. This shift would allow the cultural consumption and fetishization perpetuated by many travel vlogs, to transform into cultural appreciation and a means of knowledge production.

[09:58] In the article “Walking with Video” (2008), anthropologist Sarah Pink discusses the ethnographic potential of video as a research method. She describes video as a means of “sensing place, placing senses, sensorially making place and making sense of place.” (Pink 208, 243). Or, in other terms, video contributes to the process of placemaking through exploring lived experience and narratives.

[10:27] Turning the camera towards the local and allowing them to lead and tell the story they wish to tell can produce more accurate knowledge about a place and a culture. When the travel vlog shifts its attention from the self to the subject, the capacity for authentic representation expands. [End of Video.]



Duffy, Andrew. 2019. “If I say you’re authentic, then you’re authentic: Power and privilege revealed in travel blogs” in Tourist Studies Volume 19. No 4. Pages 569–84 https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/10.1177/1468797619865387

Hooks, Bell. 1992. “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”. Genius. Accessed March 3, 2021. https://genius.com/Bell-hooks-eating-the-other-desire-and

Oh, David C., Chuyun Oh. 2017. “Vlogging White Privilege Abroad: Eat Your Kimchi's Eating and Spitting Out of the Korean Other on YouTube” in Communication, Culture and Critique, Volume 10, Issue 4, (December): Pages 696–711
https://doi-org.ezproxy. library.yorku.ca/10.1111/cccr.12180

Pink, Sarah. 2008. “Walking with Video”. Journal of Visual Studies 22(3): 240-252.

Rony, Fatimah Tobing. 1996. “Taxidermy and Romantic Ethnography: Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North.” In The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle, pp 98-126. Durham: Duke University Press.


Video Sources

bald and bankrupt. 2019. “Hanging Out With The Elders of Dagestan.” YouTube. Published November 11, 2019. https://youtu.be/uIpiHofuFDQ

Best Ever Food Review Show. 2019. “Eating with the World’s Most Isolated Tribe!!! The Tree People of Papua, Indonesia!!” YouTube. Published August 21, 2019.

Drew Binsky. 2019. “This Country is Disappearing.” YouTube. Published February 14, 2019. https://youtu.be/7Ni4gcl4tpE

Memes Games. 2018. “Logan Paul Being Disrespectful in Japan.” YouTube. Published January 7, 2018. https://youtu.be/wGS2leBNIPQ

Nanook of the North. 1922. Directed by Robert J. Flaherty. S.l. : athépicture PPPeter. 2019. “This is The Poorest Country in the World” YouTube. Published November 3, 2019. https://youtu.be/Ge9gz8txLjY

Simon and Martina. 2013. “What’s the Ideal Korean Woman?” YouTube. Published
November 28, 2013. https://youtu.be/TkZT6LTTJIU

Yes Theory. 2019. “Traveling to the Happiest Country in the World!!” YouTube.
Published Dec 1, 2019. https://youtu.be/Qmi-Xwq-MEc

All stock footage was sourced on Pexels.com under the Pexels “Free to Use” Licence


About Author 

Photo of author

Emma Anderson is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Visual Arts at York University. One of her areas of interest is representation and identity within online spaces, as well as labour and commodification in relation to new digital media. This is an interest which really began to develop throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as online communication became an even more prominent aspect of modern everyday life. For Emma, questions began to arise about how people present themselves online, how people are represented by others, and the significance of this. Her video essay “Vlogging the Other” is one result of this line of questioning. As of fall 2021 Emma entered her final year of undergraduate studies, she plans on pursuing graduate studies upon completion of her current degree.